The Rev. Canon John L. Peterson
In the name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit: the One God.
“Let anyone with ears listen.”
A few years ago I attended a conference in Sydney, Australia entitled, “Making Connections.” Although I knew the name of the conference before I went to Sydney, “the penny really did not drop” what “making connections” really meant until I was midway into the conference, when a social critic of Australian society was giving his address. He was speaking about the Church in Australia, reflecting on why people go to church. He said, people go to church to make connections, or they are already there because they had already made their connection. He went on to say in one way or another, we as human beings are always in quest of creating and making relationships.
Today’s Gospel and the continuation of this Gospel which will be our text for next Sunday is all about “making connections,” making a connection to the Kingdom of heaven. But we do not know anything about the Kingdom of heaven per se. One cannot go to Union Station to buy an Amtrak ticket to the Kingdom of heaven. One cannot go to Dulles to board a flight to the Kingdom of heaven. So Jesus tells stories, Jesus tells parables about what the Kingdom of heaven is like. Through stories, through parables, Jesus helps us today to connect to the Kingdom of heaven.
Jesus helps us to understand the kingdom of heaven by using the most common elements of human existence. Every person in Roman Palestine would have understood the hardness of the stony ground, and how a seed falling on the stony ground “would immediately grow upwards because there was no depth to the soil. But when the sun rose they were scorched and for lack of roots withered away.”
Jesus in today’s Gospel takes the dirt of the ground and common ordinary seeds to explain the unexplainable, the Kingdom of heaven. Jesus tells his parable in four parts:
- When the sower went out to sow, some seeds fell along the path and the birds came and devoured them.
- Some of the seeds fell amongst the stones, but because there were no roots the sun scorched the plant and the plant quickly withered away.
- Other seeds fell amongst the thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them and
- Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty and some thirty.
Let anyone with ears listen.
Jesus in the second half of the parable then explains what he means for each point. What is interesting here is that scholars argue that this parable is one of the oldest parables because in other parables no explanation is given. For example, when the seed fell amongst stone, Jesus explains that parable as “the man who hears the word and immediately embraces it with enthusiasm. But he has no root in himself, and lasts only for a time, and when trials or persecution arise because of the word, he immediately falls.”
This last week I have been reflecting on these four parables of the sower as our attention has been concentrated on the meeting of the G-8 in Edinburgh. I am sure Jesus is saying to us as well, “Let anyone with ears listen.”
In Edinburgh the attention of the world has been focused on poverty and debt relief for the continent of Africa. Human beings have lived for centuries in poverty, corruption, war, disease and discrimination. What is different today is that we have no excuse to be unaware of the divide between the worlds rich and poor, the powerful and powerless, the included and the marginalized. In the complexities of the world in which we live, what type of sower are we?
The dilemma of sowing seeds could not have been more tragically played out last Thursday morning in London when bombs went off in the Underground and on a double decker bus en route from Liverpool Street Station to Russell Square. In the midst of the G-8 summit, on a day when there was so much hope that hands would join together to eradicate poverty and that environmental concerns would be addressed by the nations of the world, bombs shattered lives as seeds fell amongst the thorns.
Whenever such a tragedy happens, be it in Bali, London, Palestine, Israel, Madrid or New York the world remembers vividly September 11. On one level such a tragedy seems to be when “making connections” have totally broken down; but there is no time more important to “make connections”. It is a time when we try to make sense of the great mystery of life and death. It is a time when we, as Christians and as Americans, have to ask how we have sown our seeds.
It does not matter if we are Muslim, Christian or Jew. It does not matter if we are Buddhist, Hindu or non-believer. We are all human. We all have to face our own humanity and in facing our own humanity we face our own death. The unexplainable tragedy this past week in London gives to each of us an insight into “what life is all about”. Such a crisis opens up for us dimensions of life which we never knew existed.
Let anyone with ears listen.
I once had the privilege to accompany the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, on his extraordinary pastoral visit to Jerusalem. He was visiting Jerusalem at the invitation of the Anglican Bishop because the Archbishop wanted to be with the Christian community in its isolation and fear. In the Archbishop’s address to the ecumenical community he said, “However many times I have been here and notwithstanding so many Jewish, Muslim and Christian friends, it is not for me as a stranger to state with precision what justice might mean to this beloved land with all its problems. But this much I know, it involves entering another person’s world of pain and fear, and understanding it as much as you yourself would like to be understood.”
On September 11, 2001, the then Archbishop of Wales, Rowan Williams, was in New York walking to Trinity Church Wall Street to do a video taping when the first jet crashed into the first tower. Archbishop Rowan wrote a Special Report that later became his book, Writing in the Dust. In his Report he reflected that he “had to face the real possibility of a sudden and violent death as buildings collapsed and the streets filled with choking dust, fumes and falling debris.”
But Archbishop Rowan said something in his Report that I have had to ponder every single day since that infamous day in 2001: “I remember the strong feeling, ‘Now I know just a little of what it is like for so many human beings, Israelis and Palestinians now, and Iraqis a few years ago’; and I could only thank God for the opportunity to find out something of this, giving room in my heart for the experience of those who live regularly under threat.” How often do we make room in our heart for the experience of those who live regularly under threat?
Let anyone with ears listen.
But what has really haunted me ever since Archbishop Rowan wrote his Report is that he reminded us that God speaks a different language, not a language of revenge and retaliation, but a common language “by God sharing with us the experience of terror and death. And when we speak to God the language of hatred and rejection, nails and spears, nail-bombs and airstrikes, terror attacks and the bleeding bodies of children in Ireland, Baghdad, Jerusalem or New York, God refuses to answer in that language.” But then Archbishop Rowan said, “how hard for us really to believe we are free to speak God’s language!”
I believe we as a Church, we as Christians, are called upon to speak God’s language. In the society in which we live, God’s language is not a popular language. But God’s language is not reserved only for Canterbury Cathedral, for St. John’s Cathedral in Hong Kong, or for the National Cathedral. It is not a popular language, but the “unspeakable tragedy of innocent deaths cannot be made ‘better’ by more deaths. It may be humanly as unforgivable as it gets, but that is not the same as saying that revenge (as opposed to just punishment) is what is needed.”
As people of faith, we recognize evil for what it is. The Gospel for today puts it this way: “the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart.” We know our utter dependence upon the love, mercy and compassion of God as we confront those forces with prayer and simple acts of kindness and hospitality. While others will choose the weapons of war and destruction in the pursuit of reprisal and revenge, we know that it is in the Cross that we find the strength to stand firm, to keep vigilant in prayer, and to turn the hearts and minds of men and women to the ways of God’s justice and righteousness.
The bombings in London disrupted the G-8 meeting in Scotland and all of us are outraged at this terror. However, we cannot forget that every single day 30,000 + children die of starvation and curable diseases like malaria.
Where is our moral outrage against ourselves?
Where is our vigil for these victims of human sin?
Why are we not moved to help and address the deadly imbalance of resources?
Why are our hearts made of stone and ourfeet made of clay?
The Gospel for today gives us an insight into what the Kingdom of heaven is all about. It is about God’s language. It is about how the Sower sows the seeds. It is ultimately about how we sow our seeds. It is about the unexplainable when Jesus teaches us to pray: “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”. This vision of heaven, where we plant our seeds, ultimately will determine the kind of society in which we want to live.
But the words of Archbishop Rowan continue to haunt me: “when we speak to God the language of hatred and rejection, nails and spears, nail-bombs and airstrikes…God refuses to answer in that language.” Instead, “God speaks a different language, not a language of revenge and retaliation, but a common language by God sharing with us the experience of terror and death.”
Let anyone with ears listen.
In the name of God. Amen